Here’s a story about a transformative breath work experience I had while in rehab.
Setting the stage…
I know a guy named Dean Alan Sims. He's an LCDC at a drug rehab. He is also connoisseur of emotional intelligence and mindfulness in recovery. Every Sunday, he brought humongous PA speakers to the group room of the rehab and facilitate something called Access Breathwork—an intense use of the breath to achieve an altered state for the purpose of healing the mind, body and soul.
“This type of breath work facilitates ‘access’ to the spiritual and emotional realms (for processing and releasing),” he said.. “It can provide an out of body experience and help one reach higher planes of consciousness. Ultimately, it’s about connection with your Self and the universe, and is a healing experience.”
“It uses a stacked breathing technique—deep inhale, exhale, followed by a double inhale, then an exhale. Your breath should be full and deep, filling your lungs completely. You want to breathe faster than normal, but remain relaxed and without strain. Follow the music and let it support your breathing. The answer to anything you encounter is in your breath, so keep breathing.”
He gave everyone in the room mind-folds to keep the light outside from entering. This would allow for greater potential of inward travel.
“Start out slow and gentle with the first song. None of the songs for the whole hour and a half have lyrics. You may want to set an intention. You may also want to ask for assistance from your higher guidance.”
“I’ve designed the playlist in a way that’ll build you up and let you down softly. As it’s speeding up, breathe. Give yourself permission to stay with the process. You may want to scream, hum, laugh or cry. You may want to chant. It's okay to do these things. Remember to keep breathing.”
Just remember to let go, I told myself. Let it unfold. And breathe.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have lift off…
I’m laying flat on my back, hands over stomach like a corpse; I feel everything but. I’ll stay in this position for the whole session. Being physically still will allow the subtle bodies to move with ease. If I need to wiggle myself free, then so be it, wiggle it'll be. Intention: clear anything that needs to be cleared. Universe: I trust you’re with me, and Will: guide me.
My awareness is shifting.
I slip into a non-ordinary state of consciousness. The music is playing. The bass is like a welcome thunder. I’m enveloped by darkness but my breath says otherwise. It keeps me at bay. I’m involved like the walls of a boat are involved with the waters of a lake. The stacked breathing pries me open from the inside out like a deep tissue massage.
My body feels light, hot enough to burn calories.
An old familiar, almost forgotten place comes to me, as I to it. It’s a place below my normal awareness. I'm governed by this place to the extent I'm unaware of it.
Light turns heavy and a lead blanket covers every square cubit of my skin, pressing me to comfort. I breathe and think about oak tree leaves.
Laying on my back, still, I fall deeper. Personifications of my past try to creep in like unsuccessful thieves in the night. I can’t feel my physical body because the lead blanket has conspired with gravity to press me out of it.
My breath conjoins with the sound. A canoe. Down a hole and through, I go to face the thieves head on.
Ruination bombards me like dirt being hurled from a shovel. Self-inflicted torture grows a face and screams at its approaching demise. Or transformation. The fiend rises from the cracks like so many times before. Its reluctance to let go suspends me mid flight like a child being held up from the back of his shirt neck by a bully. Bu…bu…but I thought we…wha?
Old habits die hard, it says.
The healthy weight of gravity brings me down. I remember where we are. But hard dies fast in this fluid world, I say.
Its eyes light up like a Christmas tree. It’s burning. On fire. Squirming. It’s churning like butter dripping from a knife down into a whirlpool. Smoke rises from the sound of the vanquish.
Breathe Jake. Breathe.
My body is in pain. It had grown accustomed to stiffness. It remembers the pathways. I feel, without a doubt, how much damage I’ve done to myself. I shine a light onto this grey clogged block of memory. A hint of wholeness of some type, from somewhere, comes out of the shadows.
A life of its own, crawling underneath my skin, makes its way from my thighs to my face. It’s slow. Lead like. I keep still and allow it to find a way. Disturbing images—mental, physical, sensational, audible—arise. I see myself against a fading past. A damned past. A baleful memory of how life once was. The music and my breath remain. They are inseparable.
Tears erupt from my eyes and I weep a weep that generates power within me. The flood is enough to drown roaches and ants.
I want the sun to shine in perfect harmony in a way that balances the water, air and earth. I want the roots of all things worthy to be fed. I don’t want anything or anyone to drown. My soul wants to proceed in becoming. I breathe in stacked circles—in out in in out, in out in in out. I’m carried further through the flow of my tears.
I think about the heat of the sun. I think of oak tree leaves once more. And waves on the shore. The emotional armor that had built throughout the years of my drug addiction, crumbles a little more. I’m sorry. I’m sorry! I say to myself like a child who has realized at once his actions had been wrong and he is thus on the threshold of transformation into a man because of his realization. Never again. Never ever again!
My body loosens up. I’m sweating profusely. The heat generated by the light of awareness has extended from the higher realms on down. The movement of my emotions allows for flow. The flow allows for communication with my soul once more.
It reaches in. Forgive yourself, Jake. Truly, truly forgive yourself. Is this part of recovery? I think so.
I weep a wave greater than the weeping wave before. A grudge with myself I had had, but no more. I surf it. I can see the shore.
The tears from the pain and torture have transformed into something forthcoming. The transformation is directly proportional to the degree my body becomes less stiff and encapsulated from the old and heavy weight.
I let go. Cold dead numbness is filled with life. I see it happen in motion.
Where I’d once been in that hellish place, I’d found an exit. The music plays. It has never left my side.
I have gratitude for being alive. My body feels new, lighter than the one I’d come in with.
I roll in laughter at the absurd. I roll because it feels good to laugh. It’s okay to let out sounds of rejoice at being alive.
I revel in my new form. Corks pop on the cellular level. The music winds down. There’s some type of cohesiveness in the state I find myself in—the opposite of emergency—there’s assurance in the vulnerable. A genuine smile permeates my face.
The voice of the heart has spoken. I have received. To a greater degree, compassion has been re-known.
By the will of a powerful force flowing through the universe, I breathe.
Thank you for reading. If you have questions or if you want to share your experience, you can do so in the comment section.
Jacob O’Cain is a recovering drug addict and teaches ESL to kids in China. He’s the author of The Addict with a Thousand Faces (not yet published) and is actively looking to connect with people in the recovery community. Send him a message on Instagram @jacob_ocain or contact him through www.jacobocain.com.